How do I file an employment discrimination lawsuit in California?
Discrimination in the workplace can be very traumatizing. It affects morale and can cause your work to suffer. When employment discrimination occurs, going to work can become a thing of dread. This can adversely affect your earning potential.
It is an ugly occurrence and you should know what to do if you are a victim. California has really strong laws against employment discrimination. These laws protect employees from discrimination in the workplace. They also set out procedures through which they can seek redress.
If you have been discriminated against in your workplace, you can hold your employer to account under these laws. You may be entitled to file an administrative complaint against your employer. In deserving cases, you may even seek remedy and recover compensation in a court of law.
At Eldessouky Law, our California employment attorneys will safeguard your rights and help you put a stop to discriminatory treatment. Standing up to employment discrimination is hard. Our task is to help you fight for your rights and hold your employer responsible for breaching those rights.
In this article, we will explain what qualifies as employment discrimination and the process to protect your rights. We will also explain how a California employment lawyer can help you get the best results.
What qualifies as employment discrimination?
Discrimination occurs when an employer treats employees differently due to their protected characteristic. These protected characteristics are stated under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). They include age, race, sex, pregnancy, disability etc.
Discrimination is a subtle thing though. Often, discriminatory acts will be carried out under the guise of lawful employment practices.
In other cases, it may come in the form of subtle digs or policies that treat you differently from other employees, although in a subtle manner.
Despite this, there are certain acts you can look out for that may point to a discriminatory intent. These include:
- Sudden changes in workload and/or work duties that make it harder for you to perform well
- Exclusion from meetings and events that are crucial to your task
- Making derogatory comments about you
- Treating you differently from other employees
- Having an “English-only” policy
- Consistently refusing to promote you even when your performance merits it
- Refusing you the opportunity of going for training events that may help your career
- Terminating your employment on the basis of trumped up wrongs
- Racist or sexist behavior in the workplace
- Refusal to intervene when other employees engage in discriminatory acts
What should I do when discriminated against in California?
You should immediately contact a California employment lawyer if you have suffered discrimination. Fighting against employment discrimination will require filing a claim and proving that discrimination has occurred.
In Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal. 4th 317, 353, explained what an employee would need to establish when they raise a claim of discrimination. The employee would need to show:
- That she was a member of a protected class
- That she was performing competently in her job
- That she suffered an adverse employment action (such as denial of a raise, promotion or termination)
- Evidence that there was a discriminatory motive for the adverse employment action. This may be accomplished by showing a history of treating people with that same characteristic in the same manner.
If the employee can establish these facts, a rebuttable presumption of discrimination arises. The employer would then be obligated to prove the legitimacy of their actions. They would need to show the actions were legitimate and had non-discriminatory reasons.
Proving these facts will require the help of an experienced California employment attorney.
How do I file an employment discrimination complaint in California?
For complaints under FEHA, you have to file with the DFEH. For complaints under federal law such as the Civil Rights Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act, filing should be with the EEOC.
The reason for this is the law usually requires that you exhaust all “administrative remedies” first. This means filing with either DFEH or EEOC.
The DFEH or EEOC will investigate the matter. They will gather all the information they need to establish whether discrimination took place. The information they would need may include your contact information. They will also want the date and circumstances of the discriminatory acts complained of.
When they conclude their investigation and find that discrimination truly happened, they will mediate between you and your employer to settle. In other situations, they may issue a “Right-to-sue” notice instead. This gives you permission to file a lawsuit.
Alternatively, you can request an immediate right to sue notice if you don’t want to wait for DFEH or EEOC investigation. This would require filling out a form online. Ideally, you should consult with your California employment discrimination attorney before taking this step.
How long do I have to file my employment discrimination lawsuit?
There are strict timelines that must be adhered to when filing an employment discrimination complaint. The DFEH and EEOC have a “work-sharing agreement” which allows them to cooperate to process claims.
So, you can file your claim with either the DFEH or EEOC. You don’t need to file with both agencies, as long as you indicate to the agency you are filing with that you want it to “cross-file” with the other agency.
To protect your claim under state law, you must file with the DFEH (or cross-file with the EEOC) within 1 year of the date that the discrimination occurred. To protect your claim under federal law, you must file with the EEOC (or cross-file with the state agency) within 300 days of the date of occurrence of the discriminatory acts.
In some instances, you may have to work within even shorter deadlines. Some of these deadlines apply to claims against public entities. If you are unsure about your deadlines, you should contact your employment attorney to see if your claims are still within the statute of limitations.
Do I need to discuss with HR first before filing?
While it is not always necessary, filing a formal complaint with HR can significantly help your case. It also proves that your employer had enough notice to do something about workplace discrimination.
According to FEHA, you don’t need to make a formal complaint. You can through your actions, “put your employer on notice as to what conduct they can investigate”. What this means is that employers must take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination from occurring in the workplace.
So long as they understand that you are making a complaint, they have an obligation to investigate the matter, even if you do not contact HR first.
What damages can I expect to recover?
The damages you get from your employment discrimination suit will depend on several factors such as the extent of the discrimination, whether you were subject to any harassment and whether any harm was done to you.
Damages may include monetary compensation, punitive damages and equitable remedies. Monetary compensation usually covers:
- Payment of back wages with interest
- Payment of benefits such as pension benefits and bonuses
- Compensation for pain and suffering
- Compensation for emotional distress
Where the discrimination was malicious, the court can award punitive damages too. These damages serve as punishment to your employer for their behavior and a deterrent to other employers from doing the same. California Civil Code 3294 – Exemplary Damages
You could also get equitable remedies in your employment discrimination lawsuit. If you lost your job as a result of the discrimination, the court can make your employer reinstate you and also provide reasonable accommodations for you. Fair Employment and Housing Act 12965 – Unlawful Practices
Contact our California employment attorneys
Getting the compensation you deserve when you have been discriminated against can be daunting. At Eldessouky Law, we make this process easier for you. Our employment law attorneys will work with you, help you overcome the trauma of discrimination and provide the solutions you need to successfully move forward.
Contact us on 714-409-8991 to schedule a free case review.